Chapter 1 (The beginning)

Posted: April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized
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transformation definition

You cant stop the future. You cant rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret…is to press play – Jay Asher (Author)

The routine and the questions are always the same; even so, I make it a priority to arrive thirty minutes before the client just to make sure everything is just perfect.  When the previous family has moved out already, there is a great deal left to do. I sometimes can’t believe how people can leave a house, a huge part of their life that has been the setting for so many memories, in such disarray. I have come to think that it may just be an Indian thing. The few houses that I sold in predominantly middle class white areas, way up north, seemed to be painstakingly skeletoned so as to not disrupt the ‘inner heartbeat” of the house. Even my short stint as a volunteer in the informal settlements, predominantly black occupancy, proved different. The people in their shack had far less possessions but moving furniture and houses was done with great care so as not to leave evidence that a shack was there. They showed respect to the land that they were on, so much so that, some even performed rituals to their ancestors in gratitude for the land.  Looking back now I realize how long ago that was. That seems like almost a lifetime ago. I have been living in, and selling homes here– a predominantly Indian area – for just over five years now.

The area began as a political movement in the 1950’s to relocate all Indian people to one area. This was the trend with black people and coloured people too. Was it to keep them away from the white people?  Or, away from each other?  Or was it just to have them in one place should a civil unrest ensue? – something that was always one revolutionary away from happening. Whatever the reason, following the 1990 release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the first democratic elections, people could not wait to get out of these areas and fill the vacuum left by the terrified fleeing whites immigrating to the UK, Austrailia and so on.

So actually I have The Group Areas Act to thank for most of my business, well at least earlier on in my career. My grandparents would be so disappointed. Me, benefiting from apartheid…… the way I see it, I am helping put things right. Ensuring the Indian “Uncle” can live in the posh previously whites-only area. That is his free democratic right, surely. If they can afford to, then why not? And oh ……they sure can afford to. Some of my clients had enough money to buy their own secluded island in the middle of nowhere.

Why then do these same people pull wires off the wall , and unhinge build –in cupboard doors and even go so far as to remove curtain rails and door knobs. Door knobs for God’s sake. I shudder with disgust when I think about it. If you are like me and you believe that a house is not just layers of bricks and mortar but a home with character and memories, this behavior is disrespectful and repulsive. Call me sentimental but my childhood home is remembered as part of me, part of my memories. I still remember the tree branch I used to swing on, the yard where I rode my bike for hours and, the pool where I spent most of the summer. My bed room was my sanctuary as a teenager, from there I could see the corner of the garden, and if you sit in just the right spot , you could watch the birds building their nests and feeding their chicks.

I don’t sell houses; I sell an empty box with which to fill with memories. Or at least that’s what I thought I was doing until recently. Now I am just selling a lifestyle, a South African Muslim Lifestyle.  Yes, I am a South African Muslim, yet I seem to find myself always on the outside looking in. The lifestyle and goings-on of the people around me do not appeal to me at all. You would think growing up here and I would feel differently. I was exposed to the same childhood home as many of the people who I find around me now, but yet I feel worlds apart.

Growing up as the daughter of a Surgeon, my father was one of the lucky ones sent to Pakistan to study, our family may have been seen as somewhat privileged to anyone looking in. From within the family that was not so. My mother, a teacher, made sure that her three children were never spoilt. My brother, the only son and the eldest learnt the lesson of needs and wants earliest. From the Atari games that was popular when he was young, to his first car. It didn’t matter how much you wanted something, only if you really needed it or earned it, it could be yours.  Perhaps it was the fact that he learnt all the lessons first and probably the hardest, that when he was faced with the choice of studying in the UK, he didn’t think twice. The age gap between him and I is considerable, such that when he went off to study I was barely 6 years old. This left my older sister (5 years my senior) and myself to fill his void. My mother had a knack for communicating to her daughters though, even when we were just young children, and allowed us to be part of the decision making. Although most of the time I think we were playing into her plan as our decisions were mostly what she would say was  ‘the right thing’ to do. Until that is when we all hit the adolescent years. Looking back now, I can imagine how difficult it must have been raising three children almost on her own. The demands of my father’s job, meant he would be gone most of the week day, and at any given time during the weekends.  So when I was born, my mother stopped working and became a full time mother, wife and do-it-all. She made sure that we all had a strong Islamic foundation, and education was the priority for her. Unlike many other families back then, she was adamant that her daughters would go to university and study a degree for a purpose.  She hated the trend of sending teenage girls to University “as a worm on a hook” as she put it, simply to hook a future doctor, lawyer or engineer. So often once they hooked the big one that was the end of her career.


She was probably the first closet feminist I knew, and I can’t help but think what she could have accomplished if she didn’t have to take on the role of mother, father, driver, tutor, friend and everything in between. It was probably because of the sheer amount of sacrifice and stress that goes with that job, and neglect for herself that caused the cancer to spread so far before being detected. After her death, my father moved us into Houghton in the northern suburbs, where his parents lived. My Grandparents tried to fill the big shoes left by my mother, but with my dad gone more now than ever, it was not easy for any of us. I was just fourteen when my mother succumbed to her cancer. I spent my teenage years under the watchful eyes of my dada (grandfather) and daddi (Grandmother) and it was only ten years later that I returned here through marriage. In those years away, right through high school and my study of Architecture, I thought of myself as a typical South African Muslim. It was only after marriage when I was resubmerged into its culture that I was sure that typical was the last thing I was. Architecture was not a basic skill for a muslim wife, I was told constantly by my daddi. After my marriage I tried to get freelance work , but the macho Indian male who could crush stone with his bare hands, refused to take direction, even if it was on paper, from a twenty something girl. Selling homes then seemed to be the next best thing. I was determined not to forsake my education, and being the best architectural student in my class, I was sure to be a great estate agent. What’s more, it appeared to be best vantage point from where to watch the chaos that was a Muslim Community.

Most of my clients were Indian muslims. They come to me looking for the typical ‘Indian lifestyle’. So much for selling and empty box of memories. It’s not even about the house anymore. It’s all about the name of street that it is on and who the neighbours are. Even how far from the mall it is, and the cars parked in the other driveways mattered more than the build quality. I see the people living here as nothing more than fickle minded people with a desperate desire to fit in, and then once they do, they spend every waking moment trying to stand out.

Today’s show house family is a typical example, a young family of four, that’s still living there until their bank loan is approved, a rather large bank loan I might add, since they will be moving down to the Kwazulu Natal North Coast, Umhlanga. It is the holiday destination for most people up in Johannesburg, and I have spent many summers as a child and even recently basking on the beach soaking up the sunshine that shines all through the year. Moving to this idyllic coastal town is a dream come true for most people. I imagine that an announcement like that in this kind of neighborhood turns even the most meticulous foundationed face, green with envy.

Today’s show was only meant to be later this afternoon, but the client called and asked to have it earlier. Luckily I was able to make it earlier after calling the owners and speaking to the wife.

“Of Course, I was planning to do lunch with the girls anyways “, was her happy reply. Suhayma, the wife of a rich businessman was the epitome of the type of woman I was not. Spoilt, rich, extravagant with more makeup in her bag than brain cells in her head.

“Would it be possible to leave the keys with the neighbours if you were to leave before I get there”  I half asked and half instructed. I am really glad that she remembered to do that. The last thing I wanted to have to do, was to call her during “lunch with the girls”. I would have rather taken my chances through an open window.

I drove up to the show house and parked my Yaris in the driveway. Taking a minute to get my file and bag I became aware of a klocking sound approaching. No doubt that was the neighbour with the house keys in hand. Before turning around I had a wild guess as to length in inches of the stiletto heels making that sound. When I turned around to meet her, I realized the heels were high, but much needed.  The added 4 inches made her eye level to me in my sensible pumps. The next door neighbour handed me the keys not before giving me the third degree about the house, and the family and I couldn’t help feel like I was in a scene from ‘Desperate Housewives’.

“You know my sister’s brother in law’s niece also went to settle down in Umhlanga, but they keep saying it’s not like lenz” she says as if she has been eating straight from the sour grapes vine. I make an excuse about the client getting her any minute, and thankfully, Stilettos gets the hint.

Key in hand, I let myself in to this lavish house, and set my things down on the round table in the foyer .

A fool could tell you these people come from money, and lots of it. The husband is doing very well in a family business, that no doubt his grandfather built from scratch. From what I hear, the business is a motor spares business that’s been around in Lenasia and been in the Adam family for more than thirty years. Adam junior, the youngest son and my client today is moving down to Umhlanga to manage the new spares shop and expand the empire on the coast to include petrol service stations down there. His wife was thrilled to be moving so close to Gateway Mall, the “biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere” she said with so much excitement, I actually thought she was going to combust, but when she went on about her last shopping trip there a few months ago, her voice faded into oblivion as I slowly counted backwards from ten. Somewhere between six and nine in my counting reverie I imagined her shopping at the boutique stores in Gateway, blinged up on jewelry and caked up on makeup . I saw her in my mind with far too many shopping bags in her hand, when her red soled Laboutines give way and she goes tumbling head over gym toned butt into the famous fountain. This enlightening thought may have brought a smile to my face because she said “Oh so you like shopping too”. … I nodded a little ashamed at my fantasy at her expense.

Mr. Motor spares house was a lovely one. Not overdone, but architecturally elegant. No doubt it was a home bought, demolished and done up again from scratch. The family are still living in the house so it does not need too much sprucing up. A few vases of fresh flowers, and some magazines on the coffee table is all this house needs. The young couple have two children, 3 and 5 years old, and both have their own room and a special playroom, yet I seem to be picking up little toys all through the house. From the little I have seen of the young children I can tell you, Mrs Motor Spares or “Sue” as she had insisted being called when introduced as Suhayma, definitely was not nominated for Supermom of the year. The day of my initial visit was unfortunately, Maria -the domestic’s, day off. I watched in horror as each child ran circles around their parents, until they were each given an ipad and daddys iphone to keep them busy. The electronic playmates kept them entertained for about 30 min until mummy had to phone nana (grandfather) who had turned up and saved the day and… my appointment.

The childrens’ bedrooms were elaborate. Princess pink for the daughter and blue for the five year old son. My heart ached a little at the sight of them. The little girl’s room was enchanting with a carriage bed, no doubt the best money can buy, with all the girly girl props you can think of. Im sure mummy had a ball shopping for this room. The sons bedroom was a sports theme, with a child sized freestanding basketball hoop in the middle in the middle of the room and a huge Manchester United framed banner on the wall. Typical I thought. Scanning all the rooms i optimized light by opening all the north facing curtains as much as possible, before heading to the bathrooms. I just had enough time to put fresh towels in the bathrooms, when I heard the doorbell ring.

Mr. and Mrs. Vally stood at the open door. All that separated them from the house was a folding gate. I swiftly descended the staircase to the left of the front entrance and got into seller mode.

I saw  Mr.Vally first , a tall and attractive man , even at first glance. He looked older than his years with slightly greying hairs at his temples and an immaculately shaped beard. Far too fair in complexion for an Indian, I thought admiringly. He had well defined and sharp enough features that made me immediately guess that he was once an perhaps even now, a very good looking man. He wore a dark blue chinos and a pinstripe white shirt. No tie, but by the looks of the collar and top shirt button, I’d say there may have been one there a few minutes ago. Work clothes? I wondered. I didn’t wonder for long, no one could miss those crocket n jones look on his feet. Definitely work clothes. He stands with folded arms a foot or so in front of his wife, who holds a young boy on her hip. The handsome boy is a clue to what is father may have looked like at that age.

Mrs. Vally, stands a little shorter than him but  average for an indian lady and wears a headscarf just forward enough for me to see some highlighted gold strands. I recognize the scarf, the new craze of pinless draping scarves. Her outfit is modest, yet fashionable. Dark blue skinny jeans, a long white linen shirt and a, OMG is that gold pumps dotted with little gemstones. Hmm a bit flashy for the middle of the day, I thought.   She is looking down as I approach them, but when our eyes do meet, I am intrigued. She isn’t what you would call stunning, no undeniable sharp features, the average oval shaped bone structure, but her clear olive skin contrasting with green emerald eyes is so unusual you can’t help but be amazed. She stands upright but with shoulders turned inward, possible from holding the weight of her son. She catches my gaze and gives me a weak smile and shifts her weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably. As she does so, her husband’s hands lock instinctively around her waist. Her young daughter stands proudly next to her mother. She is distinctly her mothers daughter in looks, the same bland features, olive skin and smile. Her eyes are not green but brown yet the shape and expression is unmistakably her mothers.  I immediately notice the confidence in her body language from way she stands next to her mother with such purpose and confidence tells me the similarities with her mother start and end with her looks.

I take a breath to steady myself…. IT’S SHOWTIME.




  1. I have just finished this first post and I must say I am really looking forward to the rest of the blog.
    You write incredibly well, I was imagining the characters as clear as day.

    I love your witty imaginings and insights into the indian community.

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